In graduate school, many years ago now, I was home visiting my parents. I loved running out by my parent’s house. It is so rural out there and just so beautiful and peaceful. Running was where I could lose the world around me, listen to some music, and talk to God. Having not grown up with cell phones, I never thought to bring one with me. I was running down this hill that had the most beautiful canopy of trees above my head when out of nowhere three large German shepherds leaped out of the bushes to my left. One was in front of me, one was at my side, and one was behind me. I remember my heart racing and the dogs snarling as I backed up to the stone wall on the other side of the road. I yelled at the dogs trying to scare them away. They ignored me. I tried throwing twigs at them and still it did no good.
I am not going to sugar coat it, I was scared. The sound of my own heart was thumping so hard in my ears that I almost couldn’t hear the snarling dogs. My prayer that day was not formal. My prayer had no concern for who heard me. There was no structure to the prayer and it had no flowery language. But I remember that prayer so vividly. This is what I said, “God I don’t want to be mauled today. Help me God; I don’t know what to do. How will my parents find me?” There was no “Amen”. There was no structure. It certainly wasn’t a long prayer. I understood in those moments that perhaps God wouldn’t answer my prayer the way I wanted him too but I trusted he would give me what I needed. If I was going to go down, I would go down fighting. So I looked around for a large loose rock. I knew that no matter what happened my God would prevent me from dying at the very least and that I would get through the incident.
Well within minutes it seemed I had no need for the large stone I found. A old beat up white car came barreling down the road. It looked as if it had not been washed in years, there were scratches all over it and I thought he would just drive by. But that was not the case. The car slammed on the breaks coming to an abrupt stop between me and the dogs. A middle aged man rolled down the window and said “Looks like you could use some help”. So he put the car in reverse and drove next to me as I ran to safety back towards my parent’s house, where I called the dog warden.
My prayer was not poetic; it was far from elegant. It was not even specific or well thought out. Yet God knew my needs in those moments. He gave me courage and an angel to save me from what could have been a very serious problem. I was certainly not in a holy place, my head was not bowed, and I wasn’t on my knees. I didn’t use carefully thought out and crafted words and there was nothing biblical about it. There wasn’t time for all of that.
But it was still a genuine and authentic prayer. Christ calls us to all to pray like that. He calls us to participate in all spiritual practices just as long as we are authentic in our desire to connect with God. Longer and more flowery does not make a better prayer. God prefers the simpler straight to the point prayer, the prayer that isn’t done for the sake of attention, or for attaining the air of piety. It is helpful to remember that prayer is defined as a direct personal relationship with God. An attitude of play acting will destroy the true spirit of prayer.
Christ gave us the Lord’s Prayer, not to replace our personal prayers. It is to act as an example of how someone can pray in less than 15 minutes. In the prayer, Jesus gets right to the point. He offers glory to God, and then he asks for all that sustains life, and asks for forgiveness and that God will grant a forgiving heart. We each can pray easily. You do not need knowledge of the Bible; you do not need to be highly educated. You do not need to be taught the formula for prayer. You do not need to be standing, kneeling, or in any particular position. You just need to be genuine with God.
When we pray, we share with God our hardships and seek counsel for tomorrow. Prayer is important because it invites God into our life and establishes a relationship. Max Lucado writes, “Ours prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference”. According to Christ there is no right or wrong words for prayer, just as long as the intentions behind our prayers are genuine and not for self glorification. There is no right or wrong stance just as long as when we pray in a position that helps us feel connected to our God. Otherwise, what is the point?
Prayer is a powerful tool that is available to us no matter where we are in life. Whether we are sitting at our desks at work, riding the train into the city, sitting in a doctor’s office, driving to work, walk the dog, or just have a quiet moment before bed, anytime there is a need to feel connected to God, anytime we are struggling or overjoyed these are perfect times to take a moment for prayer. And the more awkward those words are, the more they do not flow, the more authentic and genuine we are. These are the prayers God asks of us.
So remember the words of Christ this morning, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”. So make sure to take the time each and every day to pray. Seek out God for guidance, healing, wholeness, and understanding. In time you will see God’s answers in your life and with the act of prayer you will deepen your relationship with your maker and begin the process of building that trusting relationship we all desire. And if you don’t know where to start, then flip to the Psalms for inspiration or begin with Christ’s example, the Lord’s Prayer, and branch off from there.
Carry it Home
Take a few moments each day to say a prayer. If you don’t know where to start or what to say, then look to the Psalms for your inspiration. There is a Psalm for every crisis and moment of joy in life.
 Max Lucado, 21st century Christian author.
 Matthew 6: 7-8, RSV.
(based on Psalm 42: 1-11 and Matthew 6: 1-15)